Jarin Stevenson becomes Alabama’s latest surprise hero in a history-making Final Four run

By | March 31, 2024

LOS ANGELES – The unlikely hero of Alabama men’s basketball’s biggest victory of all time should still be a senior in high school at this point.

Jarin Stevenson only took extra classes to graduate a year early because the Crimson Tide let players at his position leave for the NBA.

Alabama wouldn’t be making its first Final Four appearance next week if Stevenson hadn’t made that decision. The 18-year-old came off the bench Saturday night to score a season-high 19 points, an unexpected contribution that helped the Tide erase a double-digit first-half deficit and pull away from Clemson for an 89-82 Elite Eight. victory.

“Several guys have done their best throughout this whole deal,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “Jarin, shooting, season high in the biggest game of his life, hitting big shot after big shot, making tough play after tough play. He grew up tonight.”

Alabama freshman Jarin Stevenson dropped a career-high 19 points in the biggest game of his life yet, leading the Crimson Tide to an Elite Eight victory over Clemson on Saturday in Los Angeles.  (Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Alabama freshman Jarin Stevenson dropped a career-high 19 points in the biggest game of his life yet, leading the Crimson Tide to an Elite Eight victory over Clemson on Saturday in Los Angeles. (Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

While Mouhamed Dioubate’s late offensive rebounds saved Alabama from the Grand Canyon and Grant Nelson’s late strike propelled the Tide past North Carolina, Stevenson may be his team’s most unlikely savior yet. This is a kid who came into Saturday shooting 29% from behind the arc, who has reached double figures once since early December and who finished a scoreless game two nights earlier in the Sweet 16.

With Nelson committing two fouls in the first four minutes against Clemson on Saturday night, Oats had little choice but to turn to Stevenson from the bench. The 6-foot-1 freshman got a catch-and-shoot opportunity on his first possession, confidently released the ball and… completely missed the rim.

Earlier in the season, Stevenson might not have shot again for the rest of the evening. Even on Saturday, his belief in himself wavered for a moment. He knocked a 3-pointer into the open corner moments later in the first half, but teammate Aaron Estrada encouraged him to let it fly.

“I told him, just shoot the ball,” Estrada recalled. “Have faith. You were built for this. You put in the work.”

Buoyed by the support of his teammates, Stevenson embraced the next shot mentality that Oats has preached to him all season. He sank a pair of corner 3s in a span of less than two minutes, allowing Alabama to rally from an early 26-13 hole and take a slim lead into halftime.

Stevenson struck again in the second half, burying three more catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, each coming after Clemson had clawed within a single shot of the lead. He also held his own defensively in the post against Clemson’s bruisers, giving Oats the confidence to play him for 25 minutes.

“Jarin had the game of his life, the game of his career at Alabama,” Alabama guard Rylan Griffen said. “Every three he made came at the right time. For this performance alone, he will forever be remembered as a ‘Bama legend.’

It’s no surprise that Stevenson was a coveted recruit given his basketball bloodlines. His mother won multiple ACC titles at North Carolina in the mid-1990s. His father played professional basketball abroad in South Korea.

Because Stevenson spent his high school years in Chapel Hill and has family ties to North Carolina, many assumed he would play for the Tar Heels after coach Hubert Davis offered. Stevenson instead committed to Alabama because they needed him more after forward Noah Clowney and center Charles Bediako left for the NBA Draft last year.

“We looked at the roster and there were a lot of people at his position at Carolina,” Stevenson’s father, Jarod, told Yahoo Sports. “It will be difficult for him to get a lot of playing time. In Alabama, many people left. At the time he signed, there was no one in his position.”

Nelson’s decision to transfer from North Dakota State last June allowed Alabama to slowly bring Stevenson off the bench. He showed tantalizing potential in practice but only occasionally flashed in games.

“He didn’t want to step on anyone’s shoes,” Jarod said. “He’s the youngest guy on the team. It was difficult for him to be assertive.”

So when Stevenson followed a scoreless game against hometown North Carolina on Saturday by shooting his first 3-pointer in the air, his mother and father began to worry that he might be cautious.

“Then he started making all kinds of things, and we went crazy,” Jarod said. “To actually see him take these kinds of photos really made me proud.”

By the end of the game, Jarod’s smile stretched from ear to ear. He flashed it when he stomped Alabama on the bracket, when he threw red-and-white confetti in the air and when he climbed a ladder to cut down a piece of net.

And he showed it when Alabama’s best player, Mark Sears, said Jarin’s performance on Saturday night was his favorite memory of the team’s Final Four so far.

“We’re not going to win this game without him making those timely threes,” Sears said. “Just to see him do that and see him mature, it’s really a memory.”

When later asked how it felt to hear Sears say that, Stevenson smiled again and said, “That’s pretty cool.”

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